The Best Food Recommended for Older Dogs

It's common knowledge that dietary requirements, for both humans and dogs, change with aging. Yet, the Association of American Feed Control Officials hasn't set any official dietary standard when it comes to nutritional requirements for senior dogs. Not surprisingly, you'll find that foods marketed for aging dogs vary quite widely when it comes to their nutrient contents. To promote prolonged health, it's important to find the best diet that suits your aging dog's individual needs as senior dog foods are not all the same.

A Senior Adult Couple Smiling with a Dog in a Living Room, Side View
A senior couple sitting with their dog on a sofa.
credit: DAJ/amana images/Getty Images

Food to Prevent Obesity

As dogs age, they have a slower metabolic rate and tend to become less active. Even though that rounded belly may look cute, consider that unhealthy weight gain predisposes your dog to age-related conditions such as osteoarthritis, respiratory and cardiovascular disorders, diabetes and cancer. When choosing the best dog food, look for foods with reduced calories and make sure to check labels as some senior foods are formulated for skinny aging dogs.

Food for Muscle Mass

It's important for senior dogs to be fed diets containing more protein than adult maintenance formulas. Older dogs need about 50 percent more protein than younger dogs, explains Sally Perea, of the American College of Veterinary Nutrition and senior scientist at P&G Pet Care in Mason, Ohio. A low-calorie food with increased high-quality protein prevents loss of muscle mass and increases muscle strength in healthy seniors. Look for food containing at least 25 percent protein coming from a quality protein source, suggests Dottie P. Laflamme, of the American College of Veterinary Nutrition and Purina research scientist in Saint Louis, Missouri.

Food for Aging Joints

It's estimated that osteoarthritis affects as many as 20 percent of dogs. While a balanced diet offering the right amount of protein and reduced calories decrease the chances for obesity, you may want to look into nutraceuticals offering potent anti-inflammatory effects. In particular, eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid derived from marine oils appear more effective than plant-based oils. Glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate are also known for promoting joint health.

Food for Brain Health

Yes, dogs suffer from the effects of free radicals too. Antioxidants for brain health have proven beneficial, according to research conducted by Steve Zicher, of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine and the American College of Veterinary Nutrition at The Mark Morris Institute in Topeka, Kansas. It's estimated that canine cognitive dysfunction, the doggy version of Alzheimer's disease affects 20 to 68 percent of middle-aged to elderly dogs. When antioxidants were added to the diet, dogs showed an improvement in the manifestation of clinical signs of age-related cognitive dysfunction.

Food for Health Conditions

Senior dogs suffering from diabetes, kidney failure, heart or liver disease may require a customized diet for their conditions. Constipated dogs may need a high-fiber diet and dogs with dental problems may need softer foods. Soaking the kibble with warm water or chicken broth -- with no onion or garlic -- or offering canned food are some options.

If you own a finicky senior dog, you may increase palatability with homemade foods such as cooked chicken and barley or cooked lamb and rice, suggests Fred Metzger, of the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners at Metzger Animal Hospital in State College, Pennsylvania. Just make sure to consult with your vet to rule out medical problems and ensure your dog receives the correct amount of vitamins and minerals.

Food for Thought

The best senior diet meets an individual dog's needs which vary based on age, size, level of activity and health. For instance, consider that large dogs become seniors around age 6 whereas smaller dogs age around 8 or 9. Small dogs have more sensitive digestive systems and different energy requirements compared to large dogs. If you're looking for the best diet for your senior dog, your ultimate best bet is consulting with a veterinary nutritionist who will consider all these individual factors.